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Science
THE MATERIAL WORLD
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Thursday 16:30-17:00
Quentin Cooper reports on developments across the sciences. Each week scientists describe their work, conveying the excitement they feel for their research projects.
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Listen to 26 July
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QUENTIN COOPER
Quentin Cooper
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Thursday 26 July 2007
Michael Rasmussen, on the opening day of this year’s Tour de France.
Michael Rasmussen, on the opening day of this year’s Tour de France. © Derrick Evans

Maths of Bikes

No Tour de France is truly complete without the question of drugs being raised, or without the spectacle of tens of bikes tumbling over in a massive pile up.

But bikes are in fact unreasonably stable, and can roll for long distances without even a rider to steer them.

The maths of bicycles has engaged top scientists for over a hundred years, but only this year it seems has it been got absolutely right.

Engineer and cycling enthusiast Jim Papadopoulos joins Material World along with motorcycle expert and control engineer David Limebeer.

Learning Arithmetic

Where does maths come from? Before we’re taught in primary schools the rudiments of arithmetic, how come we are still able to know that two is more than one, that three is less than five?

It seems that children are born with an innate sense of magnitude with which we (alongside certain animals) can do simple arithmetic before we have even heard of plus, minus, seven, twelve, or Bertrand Russell.

Camilla Gilmore recently published in the journal Nature a paper describing her work with children who have just learned to count,  who have not learnt arithmetic, but who are nevertheless able to use innate non-symbolic representations to do approximate addition and subtraction.

As Brian Butterworth tells us, insights into the development of formal logic in kids’ brains could provide solace for the 6-7% of the school population who find numeracy hour a humiliating daily disaster. They are those who suffer undiagnosed dyscalculia – a malfunction in the working of the innate mental magnitude system.

NEXT WEEK:  Thomas Telford and the smell of the sea
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